Truman Capote famously described Venice as “like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go”. And with such intoxicating evocations, it’s no wonder that Venice is so popular a tourist destination. In fact, with more than 650 cruise ships docking at its port each year, Venice is the most popular cruise destination in Europe.
Over the past 15 years the number of cruise ships docking at the Venetian lagoon has risen from 206 in 1997, to 655 in 2011. While many have welcomed the fiscal benefits of this 439 per cent increase in tourism, particularly in the wake of the global economic crisis, a group of Venetians is currently vocalising their concern about playing host to so many vessels. Their concerns relate to the damage that the vessels are doing to the ecology and environmental sustainability of Venice, the high levels of pollution, the liveability of a city marred by mass overcrowding, and the constant eye-sore that these ships present, obscuring the very sites their passengers (and local campaigners) are so eager to see.
Additionally, campaigners are contemptuous about the societal shift to a more commercial and capital-driven Venice, particularly given its status as a World Heritage site. Verbalising his fears that Venice is transforming into ‘Disneyland’, Silvio Testa, spokesman for the campaign, told the BBC that it “makes me sick in the stomach … these ships are the representation of the nightmare that Venice is living through.”
As Matteo Secchi, head of the pro-Venice group ‘Venessia’, has said, “Every solution brings its own set of problems.” It’s impossible to consider sealing off Venice’s port without also considering the impact this would have on the city’s economy. According to the Cruise Venice Committee, cruise ship passengers spend more than 150 million euros ($193 million) annually in the city, not to mention that 3,000-plus Venetians are employed in some capacity by the cruise industry. The irony that tourism is the financial backbone of Venice is not lost on Secchi, who, in conversation with German news site Deutsche Welle, said, “It’s a paradox, because the tourists are very important for the economy of Venice.”
As yet, a solution has not been reached, but a current inquiry by an Italian parliamentary committee is endeavouring to find a solution. Don’t hold your breath …
Words: Riley Palmer